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St. Francis Prep captures first title since 2006

TimesLedger Newspapers

Franco Purificato grabbed the trophy, turned toward his team and raised the hardware over his head.

“Here it is, baby!” the St. Francis Prep coach said as his players met him in an embrace.

The feeling was understandably euphoric. Too many times in recent years the Terriers have been the favorites and come up empty. The stigma was that SFP couldn’t win the big game.

Well, that all changed with a 1-0 victory over Fordham Prep for the Catholic High School Athletic Association Class AA intersectional boys’ soccer championship Sunday at St. John’s University’s Belson Stadium. St. Francis (18-0-1) will take the title back to Fresh Meadows for the first time in five years.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Purificato said. “It feels like forever since ’06 when we actually won.”

It was particularly significant for the 10th-year coach, because senior leaders Chris Joseph and Christian Molano — two of the best players in the city — finally got a championship to call their own. They were the only two to compete on the varsity as freshmen three years ago in Purificato’s 17 total years on the SFP sideline.

“I saw them out there, I almost started crying,” Purificato said. “It’s emotional for them. For me and for them. They’ve been with me for four years now. They’re like my little guys.”

They came up huge all postseason. Joseph played a ball to striker Jason Gonzalez, who put forth a tremendous individual effort to score in the 50th minute. Molano, meanwhile, was sturdy in the back to say the least. Fordham Prep (12-3-5) had very few chances in the second half.

Joseph said he and Molano gathered their teammates together before the final 40 minutes and said that they were the best team in the state and they could pull this off.

“[Saturday] night I couldn’t even sleep,” Molano said. “I’ve been here for four years and we’ve come so close. We needed to win this.”

Last year, it was a stunning loss to Iona Prep in the semifinals and a loss in the state final despite being nationally ranked coming into the postseason. St. Francis Prep held a similar distinction here, too. The Terriers just wouldn’t allow a repeat.

“We definitely put our stamp on the trophy now,” Joseph said. “Because now we’re St. Francis Prep, the team that goes all the way and wins it.”

Gonzalez’s goal, a memorable tally, held up. Joseph played it to him near the top of the 18 and he worked a combination with Kenny Redzematovic before cutting up three defenders and putting it past keeper Mark Rajovic with his left foot.

“He’s got amazing footwork,” Purificato said. “It was like a magnet on his foot on that one. Sometimes he holds the ball a little bit too much, but in that case, beautiful goal. I haven’t seen a goal like that in a long time.”

Once it reached the back of the net, Gonzalez lifted his jersey and ran toward his parents, Francisca and Abelino, sitting in the bleachers. The words on the shirt underneath read, “I love you mom and dad.” Gonzalez, who also has been wearing pink gloves in support of breast cancer awareness, wanted to honor his parents in some way and was hoping to score in the final. It was his third goal in three playoff contests.

“I was hoping for this,” Gonzalez said. “We were in the finals two years ago and I missed a goal last minute. This is my way to get back and help my team win.”

“This time we played without pressure and we weren’t nervous,” Molano said. “We had one goal and that was to win the championship.”

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